Art Of Storytelling by Michael Berman
is the art of orally sharing a story or experience with an audience, usually
face to face. As a learning tool, it can encourage students to explore
their unique expressiveness and can heighten their ability to communicate
thoughts and feelings in an articulate, lucid manner. These benefits transcend
the art experience to support daily life skills. In our fast-paced, media-driven
world, storytelling can be a nurturing way to remind children that their
spoken words are powerful, that listening is important, and that clear
communication between people is an art.
Becoming verbally proficient can contribute to a student's ability to
resolve interpersonal conflict non-violently. Negotiation, discussion,
and tact are peacemaking skills. Being able to lucidly express one's thoughts
and feelings is important for a child's safety. Clear communication is
the first step to being able to ask for help when it is needed.
Both telling a story and listening to a well-told tale encourages students
to use their imaginations. Developing the imagination can contribute to
self-confidence and personal motivation as learners envision themselves
competent and able to accomplish their hopes and dreams.
Storytelling based on traditional folktales is a gentle way to guide young
people toward constructive personal values by presenting imaginative situations
in which the outcome of both wise and unwise actions and decisions can
As a storyteller, it is obviously important to know your story but this
does not necessarily mean memorizing the words. You can do that if you
want to, but the main thing is to know what happens to whom and when it
is supposed to happen. One way of accomplishing this is to make an outline
of the story to study. Another way is to imagine a picture for each part
of the story with all the important things in the picture. Any special
parts of the presentation such as poetry or complex phrases can be learned
by heart and / or you can print them out on cue cards for reference. The
more you repeat them out loud, the easier it will be to say them, whether
you memorize them or not. Use stories you are confident with from previous
occasions for a first time situation because the knowledge that you are
well prepared helps diminish any nervousness you might be experiencing.
Before it is time to tell, if possible, check out the space. If there
is something that needs to be set up or changed, something to be planned,
do it early, before you tell. Anticipate some of the things which might
go wrong and know the strategies you will use to deal with any problems
that might crop up. Make sure you have a fall-back position or some extra
material up your sleeve to use if necessary. Remember that most of the
things which are not right will probably only be noticed by you. Deal
with everything you need to deal with beforehand, then forget about those
things. When you get up to tell, it is time to concentrate on the listeners.
introduction and explanation as brief as possible. You may want to memorize
some opening lines to make sure you leave nothing to chance and to show
the audience that you know what you are doing; from then on it is up to
them. As for the ending, take your time, but not the next speaker's. Be
on, be good, and be off (vaudevillians' rule). Prepare a clean punch line
or closing comment to finish with. "And that's the story of __,"
will do. And remember to thank your audience too.
Making mistakes is a natural part of performing. It is not a question
of what to do if you make a mistake, but simply a matter of when you make
a mistake. The most important thing is to stay calm and keep going. The
audience does not know you have made a mistake unless you tell them so
do not draw attention to the problem by admitting to it or apologising.
As far as they know, the way you told the story is the way you meant to
When you look out at the people listening to you, avoid anyone who makes
you nervous. Try to find the people who make you feel safe. There is no
reason to be scared of your audience. Your audience is (usually) your
friend. They want you to succeed. And, since many of them are also nervous
about talking in front of people, they will be sympathetic if things go
wrong. Obviously, this sympathy is somewhat dependent on the venue and
how much people pay to see you perform.
you feel before going on is your performance energy. That is what will
get you up on stage and into your story. And if you do not feel it, your
performance will probably fall flat. The energy you feel is an instinctive
reaction to stress. The body knows something is about to happen and is
preparing for action. However, the emotional content is entirely conscious.
Research shows that physiologically, fear, anger, excitement are all identical.
The body is reacting in the same way. Your mind determines how you react
to those stimuli and your emotions are under your control. With some practice,
you can control whether it is fear or excitement running through your
head before going on.
If you suffer badly from nerves, the Zen concept of No-Self as an approach
to the problem can prove to be helpful - "There is no teller... only
the tale." In this way you disappear for yourself as well as for
the listeners. And if you have disappeared then there is no one to be
An alternative approach is to make use of a Talking Stick (an American
Indian tradition) which you pick up when you tell and hand to others when
they tell. It helps to connect you to those legions over the centuries
who have told stories and to remind you that you that you have an ancient
responsibility to both audience and story. This carries you well beyond
the awareness of nervousness. The nervousness is still there but now it
is harnessed to bringing out the life in that story. The idea is to make
your focus the responsibility to your audience and your story rather than
focusing on yourself. Let go of yourself and think about the people you
are telling the story to. Pay attention to them and you won't be thinking
of yourself and you won't be nervous.
can also be an effective tool. Sitting in some quiet place, imagine as
clearly as possible that you are preparing to perform - employing all
your senses - the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings associated with
these pre-performance moments. Be as specific and detailed in your imaging
as possible. When you have placed yourself as fully as possible into the
pre-performance context, imagine yourself feeling completely confident--fearless.
Imagine how great it would be to feel that way, rather than scared. Then
continue on with the imagined performance: you present your material--solidly,
and with confidence. Imagine the smoothness and grace with which you will
make your presentation. Imagine your heart keeping a steady pace instead
of racing. Imagine your breath deep and full, not shallow and shaky. In
other words, paint an accurate and detailed mental image of every step
of the process - the way you've experienced it so many times before -
but with a successful outcome. Once you have experienced success in non-ordinary
reality in this way, it becomes that much easier to achieve in this reality
Slowing down your breathing can help to control nervousness too. If you
must focus on yourself, then focus on your breath. Breathing is the most
important thing for life. If you are nervous, if you are scared, or feel
anyway you don't want to feel, then think about your breath and control
it. Deep breaths - in through your nose - out through your mouth. Once
you have your breath under control, you can do anything.
One way to practise storytelling with others is to pick a partner and
sit facing each other, close enough to have your knees touching. Have
other partners on either side of you so you are in two long lines all
up close against each other, and all facing your respective partners.
One person in each pair starts the story and after thirty seconds to a
minute say, 'and', and then 'throw' the story to the person opposite to
continue. That person makes up the next short segment, says 'and' and
then passes the story back to the first person again. The story unfolds
by being passed backwards and forwards this way between the same two partners.
Before everyone starts they are told that the story that is to unfold
between each pair is to be about a journey. Two people who a very fond
of each other go their separate ways and on their respective journeys.
Many things happen during the course of their journeys that stretch their
resourcefulness and help them grow in wisdom. Then circumstances happen
such that they find each other again and share the experiences they had
along the way.
is taken from the book COPING WITH CONFLICT: Wisdom tales, for teachers,
trainers and therapists.
|Michael Berman is currently a research student at the University of Wales, Lampeter, and working part-time as a teacher at Oxford House College in London. Publications include A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT Classroom and The Power of Metaphor for Crown House Publishing and The Shaman and the Storyteller for Superscript. Michael has been involved in TESOL for over thirty years and has given presentations at Conferences in Austria, Azerbaijan, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, and the Ukraine.
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